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New Shelley’s sightings in Uganda

16 Aug
Public awarness poster at Ruhija Gorilla Mountain Lodge which is next to the Bwindi Impentrable Forest in Uganda. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Public awarness poster at Ruhija Gorilla Mountain Lodge which is next to the Bwindi Impentrable Forest in Uganda. Photo Eelco Meyjes

On the eve of the Rare Finch Conservation Groups 8 th anniversary it conducted a survey amongst all of its conservation partners to establish the exact status of the Shelley’s crimsonwing finch. BirdLife International , Uganda Wildlife Authority, Nature Uganda, Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Prof. Derek Pomeroy etc. all contributed and the great news is that in the past 18 months an additional sighting had been recorded at Ruhija. And 2 new sighting areas, in January a sighting in Buhoma , where the UWA Bwindi Impentrable Forest head office is, as well as in October 2012 a sighting up in the very Northern part of Uganda at the Rwenzori Mountain National Park. Conservation work is not about lofty ideals coming from an ivory tower or simply being an arm-chair critic. It’s all about working with and understanding why a particular species maybe threatened in a certain area and then very importantly engaging with the local community and its culture.

A map of Uganda. The Bwindi Impentrable Forest is in the bottom south western part of the country just above Rwanda and next to the DRC. The Rwenzori Mountain National Park is in the far northern part of the country next to the DRC and below the Sudan

Picture7In August last year public awareness posters were put up at Buhoma and it is our intention, funds permitting,  to soon put up public awareness posters in key areas surrounding the Rwenzori Mountain National Park. The more the local population and authorities in Uganda can be made aware of the rarity of the elusive Shelley’s crimsonwing the sooner one can expect greater local participation from relevant organisations to help find the threatened Shelley’s.  UWA Warden of Tourism at Buhoma, Godfrey Balyesima and RFCG birdguide and field manager Benson Bumatura in front of a Shelley’s public awareness poster Photo Eelco Meyjes

 

 

Photo Eelco Meyjes

A 1500 km fund raising ride was done from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Photo Eelco Meyjes 

Meanwhile in South Africa awareness of the Rare Finch Conservation Group, and its work , is steadily growing. Talks at birder clubs are taking place and events such as ultra long distance cycle rides and participation in one day cycle events such as the 94.7 in November are all helping to generate some much needed additional funds for the RFCG

If you would like to become a donor, sponsor or participate in one of our exciting fund-raising EcoTours then please contact Russell Kingston at indruss@bigpond.com or Eelco Meyjes at editor@avitalk.co.za. The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation

Still after 8 years the World’s only known modern day photograph of the Shelley’s crimsonwing. Visual courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

Shelley now needs our help

2 Nov

Drawings of Mountain Gorillas done by young orphaned children at Buhoma village in Uganda which is where the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Head office is based. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Conservation work is not about lofty ideals coming from an ivory tower or simply being an arm-chair critic. It’s all about working with and understanding why a particular species maybe threatened in a certain area and then very importantly engaging with the local community and its culture. Life for those communities living on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable forest ( which as we know is home to the threatened and elusive Shelley’s crimsonwing ) is not easy. Many children have sadly been orphaned from parents dying of HIV/ Aids.

Orphaned children in Buhoma entertaining tourists to help raise some much-needed money. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Fortunately the orphaned children living at Buhoma village have been taught not to beg, but to rather have some self-pride and raise money by using their talents in the world of art, music and dance to entertain eco tourists that now visit Bwindi to do Gorilla trekking and birding activities. Most of the locals living around the forest are subsistence farmers. For many witchcraft is still very much a way of life. Living next to the tropical rain forest means that virtually anything they may wish to plant will grow. So the conflict of interests between man and wildlife over land usage is a reality that cannot be ignored. Locals for centuries have used the forest as a valuable source for building materials, food and traditional medicines etc. All this activity has led to an ever shrinking forest and a dramatic loss of habitat for the worlds last remaining Mountain Gorillas, not to mention other living species such as the Shelley’s crimsonwing that may have been affected by it.

The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest on the left. And a crop of tea planted on the outside of the forest. Mountain Gorilla’s don’t enjoy tea as part of their diet.

The locals often viewed Mountain Gorillas as a threat to their livelihood  On many occasions the gorillas would come out of the forest and raid the valuable life-sustaining crops. Needless to say retribution was  a reality. Today thanks to the outstanding educational work done by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority ( UWA ) and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP ) local village people now realise the value of mountain Gorillas as a sustainable eco tourist resource. The locals were taught that Mountain Gorillas don’t enjoy tea leaves as part of their diet and so today one can see more and more tea crops planted on the edge of the forest. Social upliftment is beginning to happen. A percentage of all Gorilla trekking permits sold is used to build much-needed clinics and schools in the area. Literacy levels are improving and slowly jobs are being created to support the growing influx of gorilla trekkers and birders. Bwindi which is only 332 sq kilometres in size has more than 350 bird species ( 43 are finch species )

UWA Warden of Tourism Godfrey Balyesiima and RFCG birdguide and field manager Benson Bumatura in front of a Shelley’s finch educational poster. Photo Eelco Meyjes

The Rare Finch Conservation Group, with the in valuable support of its ground partner the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC ), has now completed two field studies ( the second study was  a 12 month study period ) in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and sadly no Shelley’s crimsonwings were netted or seen during that period. The good news however is that the bird has now been sighted on 3 separate occasions in the Ruhija area and local awareness, on the rarity of the species, has grown significantly. Educational posters have been put up at park offices, tourist lodges and at the ITFC in Ruhija. Benson Bamutura, the RFCG field manager and bird guide has been upskilled and today is  highly qualified. The RFCG recently completed its first successful fund raising EcoTour to the area and the UWA have introduced a 4 hour Shelley’s finch birding hike. The UWA charge 50 US$ per person for a permit to do the hike, which includes a bird guide and an armed ranger. The trail is well supported by international birders and now provides a valuable fund raiser and employment opportunity for locals.

The RFCG is currently raising funds to support a third field study, which will  include field work in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park as well as the Rwenzori Mountain Park. All 3 parks are high altitude parks in Uganda. If you would like to become a donor, sponsor or participate in one of our exciting planned fund-raising EcoTours then please contact Russell Kingston at indruss@bigpond.com or Eelco Meyjes at editor@avitalk.co.za. The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered as a non-profit organisation

Hopefully one day we will see young children in the area drawing the threatened Shelley’s finch, which has now become one of Africa’s rarest finches

World’s only known photograph of the Shelley’s crimsonwing. Visual courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

See our new Finding Shelley YouTube video

20 Sep

The Rare Finch Conservation Group was founded on 10 August 2005. It was at a time when Google, facebook, YouTube, Blogs, twitter and smartphones were either not yet in existence or still very much in their infancy. Birdlife International and the IUCN Red List on birds listed the Shelley’s crimsonwing as Vulnerable with a population estimate of 2,500 to 10,000. The species was known to be a high altitude finch normally seen at 1,550 – 3,500 m above sea level . The bird had been seen in the DRC , Rwanda and in Uganda in the Rwenzori Mountains and in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Even with this reportedly large population estimate the RFCG was sadly unable to source a single photographic reference of a live specimen for the world to see.

William van Rijn sketching the Shelley’s crimsonwing finch in his lounge back in 2005. Photo Eelco Meyjes

And so it was that William van Rijn , who is a founder member of the RFCG and also has artistic talent, did a drawing of the bird to accompany our very first press release. The RFCG embarked on an aggressive international and local awareness campaign to help bring attention to one of Africa’s rarest finches . The group also raised  funding to conduct two field research studies in the world famous Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The spectacular forest, with its reported 43 finch species, is also home to half of the worlds threatened Mountain Gorillas.

None of us in our wildest dreams would have thought that seven years later , literally to the day , the RFCG would be hosting its first EcoTour to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to help raise some much needed funding. Not to mention bringing some valuable ecotourism to people living in the local community

Standing in the main road in Buhoma where the Uganda Wildlife Authority ( UWA ) head office for the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is based. l to r Joe Kitching, Indra and Russell Kingston, Ralph Kunkel, Geoff and Sue Russell, kneeling Benson Bamutura RFCG bird guide and field manager, Chris Leeper and Peter James . Photo taken by Eelco Meyjes

In addition to the news above, again none of us in our wildest dreams would have predicted that the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA ) would be informing the RFCG, on its 7th anniversary, of the introduction of a Shelley’s finch birding hike up at Ruhija. Nor would we have speculated that we would be sharing all this exciting news direct with our supporters on YouTube, Google, Twitter as well as on our very own RFCG Blog

The Rare Finch Conservation Group would sincerely like to thank all its followers, donors and sponsors for their invaluable support over the past seven years and let’s hope that our vision and ideals will continue to inspire finch enthusiasts all over the world.

If you enjoyed our Finding Shelley YouTube video please share it with a friend.

Our next blog will show some interesting visuals of the village of Buhoma which is where the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest HQ is based

A new RFCG YouTube video ” Finding Shelley ” is currently in production

10 Sep

Geoff Russell, Russell Kingston and Joe Kitching just outside Ruhija, on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest looking for finches. Photo Eelco Meyjes 

At 2300 metres above sea level the tiny village of Ruhija, just outside the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest , has been described by some as the most beautiful place in Uganda . It is one of the few places in Africa where all four crimsonwing finch species have been seen ( Abyssinian ( Cryptospiza salvadori ), Red Faced Crimsonwing ( Cryptospiza reichenovii ), Dusky Crimsonwing ( Cryptospiza jacksoni ) and the elusive Shelley’s crimsonwing ( Cryptospiza shelleyi ). Unfortunately not many visitors to Uganda have been to Ruhja  because it normally requires your own transport and it is strongly recommended that a 4×4 vehicle be used .

Locals will travel to and from Ruhija using a 4 x 2, but will often have a lot of extra hands to help push when needed. Photo Eelco Meyjes

The RFCG is currently producing a YouTube video titled ” Finding Shelley ” which will share the magnificence of the area and provide an informative insight to some of the most recent developments in and around the tiny village and its friendly people . Bwindi is home to not only 43 different finch species , but more than 350 different bird species have been sighted in this world heritage site national park . ( In total more than 1000 different bird species have been recorded in Uganda making it one of Africa’s top destination for serious birders ) The recent successful RFCG EcoTour spent a couple of days in Ruhija and a few of the guests also took the opportunity to participate in some exciting Mountain Gorilla trekking.

Following on the success of Amos Monday , who is a local bird guide working in  Ruhija , and who first saw a pair of  Shelley’s crimson wing finches back in August 2010, the Uganda Wildlife Authority  ( UWA ) informed the directors of the RFCG that they have now introduced a special 4 hour Shelley’s birding hike.

Eelco Meyjes, Godfrey Baryesimo UWA Bwindi Warden of Tourism , Russell Kingston and Benson Bamutura RFCG local bird guide and field research manager celebrating the good news with the introduction of the new Shelley’s bird hiking trail.Photo Eelco Meyjes 

The RFCG is currently planning a possible 3 additional fund-raising tours over the next 24 months . ( One tour to South Africa which will include visiting the world-famous Kruger National Park and seeing many of the  whydahs and weavers in full colour . The second trip will be from South Africa to Australia which will include attending the Queensland Finch Convention in Brisbane in 2014 as well as travelling to the Kimberley’s to see the beautiful gouldians in the wild . The third tour will be another trip to Uganda to go and see some of the magnificent 43 finch species as well as to possibly participate in some Gorilla Trekking. Most of the EcoTours will be approximately 17 days in duration.

For more information on these exciting planned tailor-made RFCG EcoTours please contact either Russell Kingston in Australia at indruss@bigpond.com or Eelco Meyjes in South Africa at editor@avitalk.co.za . All profits generated from these fund-raising tours will be donated to the Rare Finch Conservation Group.

Shelley’s finch birding hikes now introduced at Bwindi. It’s history in the making

22 Aug

The very first RFCG Ecotour guests to participate on the Shelley’s finch birding hike at Bwindi . l to r. Amos Monday, Chris Leeper, Benson Bamuturu kneeling, Geoff Russell, a ranger, Joe Kitching  Photo Eelco Meyjes 

The RFCG is extremely proud to announce that the Uganda Wildlife Authority ( UWA ) has launched a Shelley’s finch birding hike at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The 4 hour hike takes birders to the place where a pair of Shelley’s Crimsonwing finches were first spotted by Amos Monday in August 2010. The hike starts from the tiny village of Ruhija which is very high up, on the misty mountains, in the south eastern part of the magnificent forest. The hikes cost 50 USD per person which includes a birdguide as well as a ranger. The RFCG suggests that for those birders wishing to participate on such a hike that they ask for Amos Monday to be their bird guide. Amos’s English is fairly good and he is a very good birder who doubles up as a porter on Mountain Gorilla hikes. Birders , if they wish, can also participate on Mountain Gorilla hikes which start from the same village. Permits to participate on a mountain gorilla hike currently cost 500 USD per person and need to be purchased well in advance from the UWA.

Amos Monday, Benson Bamutura and Eelco Meyjes at the actual spot where a pair of Shelley’s finches were seen by Amos. Amos and Benson are amongst the very few people in the world who have actually seen the elusive Shelley’s crimsonwing finch, which is one of Africa’s rarest finches. Photo Eelco Meyjes 

It has always been part of the RFCG’s vision to not only do conservation work with some of the rarest finches in the world ,but to also try and socially uplift local communities , by providing employment, where a rare finch species maybe seen . The small community in Ruhija is extremely poor and the birdguides, in the event of them seeing the bird, are unable to purchase sophisticated cameras to actually photograph the elusive finch . The RFCG would hereby like to appeal to all birders visiting the area, and participating on this newly introduced hike, to try and capture the bird on camera and share the visuals with the rest of of the international birding community. To this day, eventhough BirdLife International estimates that there are between 2,500 to 10,000 of these little finches, there still is only one known recent photograph of the bird in the world. Whilst the going may have been tough on certain parts of the tour the RFCG is pleased to report that its first pioneering fundraising EcoTour to South Africa and Uganda was a great success. More about the trip will be shared with our followers in future blogs as well as on YouTube.
Watch this space for more about our exciting planned fund raising trips over the next 24 months or contact Russell Kingston at indruss@bigpond.com or Eelco Meyjes at editor@avitalk.co.za if you wish to find out more and make a provisional booking

Bwindi warden of Tourism Godfrey Baryesima is congratulated by Russell Kingston for opening the new Shelley’s finch bird hiking trail up at Ruhija. Photo Eelco Meyjes 

A ranger protects Eelco Meyjes whilst doing film work on the first RFCG Ecotour Shelley’s birding hike in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Photo Eelco Meyjes 

The spectacular Great Blue Turaco was seen in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest by participants on the first RFCG EcoTour . Photo taken by Russell Kingston

World’s only known photograph of the Shelley’s crimsonwing. Visual courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

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